Good Advice

Catherine Smith, Immediate Past President IAP2 USA 

Good Advice 

I’ve found that good advice for writing often translates well into good advice for public participation, and life generally. In this moment, I find myself thinking of one piece of advice of this type—when something feels too huge, start with something small.

So this post is starting here—a park bench. It’s wood and worn by the weather of our coast. It carries a quote on a metal plate drilled into its back, “This view never disappoints.” That view is of the ocean that I stand in as often as possible, like I did this morning on June 19th, 2020.  That’s one hundred and fifty-five years since 1865 when on this same day slaves in Texas learned they were no longer slaves…two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Lincoln.

As I sit on this bench and look out at those waters I just stood in, I think about the hundreds of years slaves were chained and put into ships that traveled waters like these to arrive at the shore of this country. And once here, I think of the brutality of slavery they experienced and its underlying philosophy that continually morphed to operate in new forms in the centuries since emancipationsuch as Jim Crow laws and redlining banking practices.

I wasn’t there when slave ships sailed. But I’m here now. Like all of us, I was here in that low tide moment when we saw what’s at stake, as we watched George Floyd speak his last words. I’m here now, and the waves of history have washed across my feet to this moment. To this time when we can help people make good decisions about how we heal this country in our time now from the unjust legacies of slavery and the systems of its aftermath.

I hope you have a bench like this in your life. One that gives you a view into where we are in history, our role in it as the home of quality public participation, and the tremendous moment we have before us as a community to help people make truly good decisions together. It’s in that spirit that we are integrating an equity lens into all we do, working across our International community to establish a new DEI task force for the International Board, and bringing new DEI online training into being. We thank all our member and partners in this.

Many years from now when we look back at this moment in time, the unique contribution we can make to improve the operations of basic fairness in our culture and the public decisions we make as communities, may we look back and like the quote on the back of the bench be able to say that we, like that view of the ocean, didn’t disappoint.


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